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Abu Dhabi: Six dead dugongs have washed up on the coast bringing the total of recorded deaths this year of the marine mammal to 20 specimens, according to environmental authorities in the capital.

In a statement on Monday, the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) confirmed that “six dugongs have recently been found washed ashore Abu Dhabi’s coastline from Al Silaa to Ghantoot, in what is now considered to be a significant die-off of one of Abu Dhabi’s most vulnerable species.”

Entangled dugong mother COURTESY EAD

The latest discoveries bring the total number of sea cow deaths probed by EAD to 165 incidents in recent years caused mainly by illegal fishing nets, boat strikes and marine pollution.

The agency said the remains of the shy white creatures “were discovered by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi  rangers who regularly patrol Abu Dhabi waters. This incident brings the total number of dead dugongs found to 20 since the beginning of the year, in comparison to 15 during the same period in 2017.”

Fines

Forty fines have been imposed on those who have been caught illegally fishing this year.

The losses are not good news for the dugong population with roughly 7,000 dugongs living in the Gulf, 3,000 of which are believed to inhabit Abu Dhabi waters, according to an EAD’s annual 2014 report on the animals.

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In total, about 100,000 dugongs are believed to live in the wild with 90 per cent of the population living in Australian waters.

Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Executive Director of Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity at EAD, said in a statement: “The Agency will continue to prioritise the protection of dugong habitats and ensure that enforcement of the laws continues to be applied strictly, in partnership with the Critical Infrastructure & Coastal Protection Authority (CICPA). We strongly urge all fishermen to cast their nets mindfully, prudently and responsibly and fish in a sustainable manner – in line with our local and federal laws.”

An EAD marine specialist removing a fishing off the dugong COURTESY EAD

Preliminary investigation into the deaths, said the agency, points to one of the greatest arbitrary marine killers -- drift nets which snare marine life leading to their deaths.

“The results of the investigation and necropsy indicate that the most probable cause of death was drowning via entanglement in un-manned and abandoned drift nets - an illegal fishing practice. This irresponsible act causes dugongs to be caught and ensnared in the lengthy netting,” the agency said.

Increasing mortality rates for dugongs in the UAE are being recorded despite intensive protection and sustainability measures by the UAE to ensure the health of the vulnerable marine animal’s community and habitat of its primary food source, sea grass.

“Abu Dhabi is home to the world’s second-largest population of dugongs, with around 3,000 found in the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve. Dugongs, along with their foraging habitats and their migratory routes in the UAE, have been protected under Federal Law No. 23 and No. 24 since 1999. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, the UAE has an international commitment to protect local dugong species,” the agency said.

“This represents an important pillar of the legacy of the nation’s founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, to preserve the environment and support regional and global efforts towards the conservation of dugongs.